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Epilogue: 7 Days - The Aftermath Of Love - Part VI
“Mommy, can I climb up there?”
“Of course, Baby, go ahead!” she says lowly, caressing the girls hair and for a moment she stands still, watching the big old Marula standing with its strong roots so safely buried into the grounds.
Her heart is aching with the memories that keep coming back while being in the presence of the tree. Memories of the day they first met, of the day they first kissed. Of those seven days when they became one. Whole. Forever connected in their hearts.
“Be careful, Leni. Hold on tight to the steps!” she calls and watches her daughter from a distance.
The little girl is fast, climbing the old steps like she’s been climbing up there for the umpteenth time in her life, when in reality she has never done this before. With strong grips and secure feet. Like her Daddy always used to.
“Come up here, Mommy!” she calls and beckons Pru to follow upstairs.
For a moment she feels like her heart is standing still, as if the thought of climbing up that tree will kill her in that very instant; sucking all air from her lungs, strangling her. For a moment her head is spinning and her eyes start stinging with hot tears; until she feels a warm breeze of air on her arms soothing her, wrapping her into a comforting embrace and a low chuckle brushes her ear.
Feeling for the black backpack on her shoulder she inhales deeply, can’t help but smile when she finally dares to move on. She climbs up their tree slowly, step by step and has to turn her head when she hears that chuckle again. Has to skim her eyes through the branches and stare up into the bright blue sky for a short while.
A huge lump is building in her throat as soon as she is up on the deck of the tree house, where there are dried leaves and dust all over the weathered wooden floor; where there is that old rattan sofa still sitting on one side. Slightly broken and without the brown soft pillows she remembers so well.
“This is so cool!” she hears Helena beam, running from side to side, bending her head over the rails to look down to the ground.
And yet her sweet little voice seems so far away. Cos in her head there’s only his voice singing to her lowly, with his soft lips brushing her ear and she can feel his arms around her again, like the very first day they came up here, when they were dancing slowly and falling in love so deeply.
She can smell his scent again, that sweet heady perfume that used to intoxicate her all those years. All over again. It never became old. It never failed its magic. And his scent still lingers on. On her mind. On her skin. Every day.
“Yes, it’s beautiful. Daddy loved this place so much.” she says and needs to sit down on the edge of the seats. Needs to put down the backpack and place it at her feet.
“Did he climb up here too?”
Helena sits down next to her and her big brown eyes look sad all of a sudden, her dark hair playing around her face, those chiseled features that resemble him so much.
“Yes, Baby. We used to climb up here often. It’s where I kissed Daddy the first time…” she whispers smiling and yet can’t help but start to cry. Silently the tears fall, when their baby girl puts her head on her knees and holds on tight to her with her small hands.
“Do you think he can see us, Mommy?”
“Of course! He’s looking down on us all the time and he’ll always take care and look out for you, Leni. He’s always with you.”
The girl turns her face to the blue sky and shields her eyes with one of her hand to block out the sun. Her little finger pointing into the air.
“You think he likes it better up there? What does it look like where Daddy lives now, Mommy?”
She’s taken aback, doesn’t know what to say. Every single one of her daughter’s questions asking too much of her. She doesn’t know any answers or how to give her comfort, doesn’t know how to talk about him without tearing her heart into pieces over and over again.
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
Helena gets up and walks to the middle of the tree house, holds her face to the sky again and spreads her arms; a striking pose that shakes Prudence to the core.
“I think he has a huge stage with all those lights and music and he’s dancing and dancing and dancing.”
The girl spins around in circles and smiles and giggles when she comes to stop, walks back and hugs her crying mama and climbs back into her lap.
“I miss my Daddy.” she whispers and rests her head against her chest.
And all Pru can do is hold her and caress her back, comb her fingers through her soft silky hair and kiss the top of her head.
“Me too, Baby, I miss him so much!”
“Why did he have to go then?”
Because he was killed!
Because I didn’t take enough care of him!
Because I didn’t realize that he was lying to me!
Because this is what happens when people are after money and don’t give a fucking damn about someone so vulnerable and fragile.

There are a million answers blurting out in her brain; answers that cut her open and make her bleed. And every one of those answers is blaming her. Pointing an ugly finger into her face and make her realize that she wasn’t there to save him.
“He was so tired, Leni. He’s been so very strong all of his life, he’s given so much… maybe too much…”
Her voice dies when the tears choke her and the pain gets too much. So she hides her face in her hands and bites her lip hard, until she can taste her own blood, and tries hard to keep herself together. To not break down and fall apart in front of Helena all over again.

“She’s finally asleep now.”
She hears Grace voice from the living room and pulls her arms closer around herself, rubs her arms to get rid of the chills that run up and down her spine.
“I’m sorry. I just couldn’t get a grip…” she says faintly and drops her eyes to the ground, watches her naked feet on the dark wooden floor.
“It’s ok, Honey. That’s my job, right?”
Shaking her head no, she tries to swallow the lump in her throat.
“No, Grace. This is what a mother should do. Mike always was strong enough for the kids. Even in his darkest hours he never stopped to take care of the kids. You know that.”
“Prudence, please, you’re the best Mommy any kid could ask for. You’re having a hard time right now and that’s perfectly fine. Leni is fine. Don’t worry so much.”
They fall silent for a while, the night sky wrapping her into a soft embrace that reminds her of so much warmth and love, of comfort and safety she always finds in this place.
“What if I’ll never be strong enough, Grace? What if I’ll never be ready to do this?” she breaks the silence, still standing on the big deck that is hovering above the pool area. Staring into space, across the grounds to where the Marula reaches its strong branches into the clear width of the open sky.
“Don’t pressure yourself, Pru.”
She can hear Grace filling glasses and walking up behind her.
“You can take all the time in the world. You’ll know when you’re ready.”
Drinking from her glass she tastes the sweet heady taste of Michael’s favorite red wine on her tongue and she can’t help but close her eyes, keep the liquid on her tongue for a moment and think of him; feel him on her lips. A kiss that makes her drunk and intoxicated, has her head spinning and her body aching.
“It’s such a huge responsibility, you know. I don’t wanna disappoint him, his mother… I still can’t believe she allowed me to…”

Early July 2009

The chaos of agitated voices starts messing with her head, her sight gets blurred when the tears start to fall and her quivering legs and hands try to make her body move, to get up from her seat next to Jermaine who’s screaming at Randy on the opposite side of the table. Grabbing the backrest of a couch she stumbles over her own two feet, makes all of them freeze and stop the heated argument and stare at her; a woman they hardly know, someone who speaks her own mind about their deceased brother and has a distinctive influence on his kids.
“I can’t believe you! Michael would be disgusted… with all of you!” she screams.
The words slipping from her lips so effortlessly, from her upset mind, it takes her by surprise. Staring blankly at his siblings, his mother, his father, she can’t help but shake her head, feel her sore heart beating so fast again, she feels like passing out.
“You all don’t know nothing about him! You make me so sick!” she says and hastily walks out of the room. Runs up the stairs to the room Katherine allows her to stay in since that fateful day.
Falling down onto the bed she grabs a pillow and holds on to it for dear life. Cries and cries and cries; her soul bleeding, her heart aching, she falls apart. Not strong enough to keep herself together, not knowing how to breathe anymore. She starts choking on her sobs, calls his name over and over again. Doesn’t notice when the door slowly opens after a while and Katherine slips into the room.
Wrapping her arms around her, his mother cradles her softly, caresses her back and cries silent tears with the woman she knows her son loved so dearly. He had kept her well hidden and protected all those years. And yet Katherine knew from the day she first saw him with her back in Africa years ago, he had lost his heart to her. And although they had never talked about her much, although there had been only few occasions and little time they had spent together, Katherine knew how he had needed this woman to survive, to get through the years of deep despair and how much he relied on her.
“Ssssh, girl, it’s ok. It’s all ok. I know your pain.” she whispers gently and though her heart is torn, her life shattered into a million pieces, her age and wisdom of life still can give comfort so well.
It’s in those arms where Prudence finds some sort of calmness, a place where her tears dry after a while and her heart starts to slow down.
“I’m sorry, Katherine. I didn’t mean to interfere. I know it’s none of my business.” she says lowly once she manages to sit up next to her, dry her face and wipe her nose.
Katherine grabs her hand entwines their fingers, squeezes her palm and looks at her softly.
“What do you think, Prudence? What would Michael want?”
Both of them start to cry again, silent tears that find their way down their cheeks so easily. And she doesn’t know what to say, shrugs her shoulders, not wanting to think about it.
“I… he… we never talked about… THIS…”
Drying her eyes again she stares out of the window, feels something drawing her across the room, to get up and look down on the magical grounds of Hayvenhurst. A place that reminds her so much of Neverland. The place he called home and that got robbed from him. The place that was ripped out of his heart so cruelly and turned him into a refugee.
“All I know is that he wanted to go back to Africa after the shows. It was his biggest wish; we talked about it all the time. He wanted to settle down and come home so badly.”
Turning around she finds his mother fiddling around with the comforter of the bed, stroking her hand across the soft fabric over and over again.
“He wanted to go back to the Lodge?” she asks lowly, her voice distant, as if her memories are drifting back.
She has been there once, has seen that beautiful place, has walked with him hand in hand while he showed her around. She remembers his happy smile, his eyes wide with joy and bliss. She remembers how he loved the peace this place gave him and the closeness to god he felt there. And all of a sudden it seems like she can feel him squeezing her hand, like he did when he stopped in the middle of their tracks, when he looked into her eyes and said:
“Mother, I feel like I finally found what I've been looking for so long. This place and this woman, the children and the baby that is growing under her heart,” and he had pointed to the porch where a very pregnant Prudence was happily playing around with the children, “they are my best of joy. They are my savior and the love I’ve been searching for all of my life.”
“Yes, Katherine, we wanted to go home to Pilanesberg. Settle down at the Lodge and he wanted to start working on movies. He had plans for some kind of studio for him and Prince, where they could shoot and practice… oh, you know how he’s overflowing with ideas once he has set his mind on something.”
A small smile flashes across her face while she talks and thinks of his excitement whenever they had talked about their plans lately.
“Prudence, we never had much time to get to know each other and I didn’t make you feel very welcome in this family but I know how much my son loved and adored you.” Katherine admits, gets up from the bed and walks slowly towards her, her slight limping more obvious these days.
“I… I love him so much, Katherine. I don’t know how to live without him, I don’t know how to go on without him.” she chokes, the despair getting stronger and more painful again with every word that she speaks and she can’t help but hug his mother and hold on tight to her. Can’t help but yearn for someone to comfort her since now that he’s gone she’s all alone and on her own.
“Would you take him home, my girl?”
She freezes in her embrace, sucks in air and holds her breath.
“Would you take him home to Africa? To the place where he wanted to be?”
“Oh my god…” she sighs and feels her knees shaking, her hands trembling and she needs to let go of Katherine and sink down to the ground.
“Are you serious?”
Katherine sits down on a chair next to her, dabs her handkerchief to her cheeks to dry her skin.
“I know you are right, Prudence. Michael would be disgusted with this fight about his resting place. I know Neverland is not an option for him and Forest Lawn, I don’t know, he would be close to his grandmother but…”
“You’d lock him away in that mausoleum, Katherine!” her hands still shaking, she looks at his mother with so much hope in her eyes. Knows she can’t be selfish, yet prays to god that maybe she can take him home.
“You think so?”
“He’d be terrified in there. He’d feel abandoned and lonely, cut off from everything he loved so much! He wanted to be free, Katherine, he yearned so much for living in peace and close to nature. He felt so close to god and His love in Africa.”
There’s a few moments of silence in the room; heavy silence when both of them are tuning into the rhythm of their hearts and the connection to the man they both love.
“I want my baby to be happy, Prudence. And I feel like this is the right thing to do.” Katherine whispers, her voice shaking, holding on to her chair for dear life.
“I’ll take him home and I’ll stay with him. I’ve been thinking about it those last days, Katherine. Me and Leni, we’ll go back home anyways. I feel this is the place where we belong.”
Katherine nods her head and manages to give her a small smile when she reaches out her hand and entwines their fingers once again.
“This has to be between you and me, my girl! For the family and the public Michael will be laid to rest at Forest Lawn. But you will take my son home.”

Grace can feel the inner turmoil that is upsetting Prudence, the huge emotions that weigh so heavily upon her.
“She knew in her heart where he belonged and where he would’ve wanted to be.”
“But what if she regrets one day? What if she thinks I took him away from her?”
She turns around and looks at her friend; with big dark eyes that are filled with so many questions and the torment of her life.
“She holds him deep in her heart, Honey. Where ever he would be, she would never go to visit that place. I guess Michael told you that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in resurrection?”
She nods, taking another swig from her wine before she puts the glass down on the banister and pulls Grace into a tight embrace, knowing without this woman she would have lost her mind by now. She says a silent prayer for this beautiful friend, for the one who knows everything about their relationship, who was there from the very beginning to the last second, who is still here and stands by her, who is the only one she trusts and feels close to, now that he’s gone.
“I think you’ll know when it’s the right time.” Grace whispers and rubs her back slowly.
“Yes, I know you’re right. He’s getting impatient with me though.” she chuckles through her stifling sobs, her face hidden against her friend’s shoulder.
“Oh boy,” Grace giggles and let’s go of her, “someone’s not in control for once!”
They both laugh together and sit down on the loungers, relax and breathe in the cool night air, listen to the vivid life that’s going on in the pitch black of the Savannah.
“Katherine wants me to come back to Hayvenhurst and help her take care of the kids, Pru.” Grace finally says and looks at her, watches her features get serious.
“I thought she would.” she nods and swirls the rest of her wine in her glass. “She needs you to help her adjust them to this new life.”
“I don’t know how to feel about the situation. I feel like you and Leni should be a major part of their life and you should take care of them.”
They stare into each other’s eyes and freeze for a moment. Knowing this is no option at all.
“Grace, I love those kids to pieces, you know that. But they don’t belong to me. He wanted them with his mother and I do respect his wishes.”
“I can’t believe you! You know he would have changed this decision today if he could! He would not want you to leave them alone.”
She sits up and grabs Grace’s hands, squeezes them tightly and looks at her.
“I won’t leave them alone, Grace! If they need me, I’ll be there. But this was our silent agreement all of the time. These are Michael’s kids. Even if Blanket is my son. He is his father’s child. Like Leni is mine. We always felt like this. And I’m more than thankful now that he always kept me hidden in the dark. That he always respected my wishes and kept me a secret. Grace you know what would happen if I’d take an official role in the kid’s lives now! You know it so well!”
They fall silent again, sipping more wine, listening to the monotonous sound of the crickets, until Grace nods her head and agrees with her.
“Gosh, I know you’re right, Honey, the media would tear all our lives further apart! But what about you, Pru? Will you be ok? Won’t you come back home?”
“We are home, Grace! This is where it all began; this is our life, our love. This is where Michael wanted to settle down.”
That’s a fact. That’s all she knows and holds on to. Through all the pain and despair, this is what she felt so strongly from the first second on; when she sat in the cold sterile room of the morgue, holding his cold pale hand, crying against his lifeless chest.